Review: Leon Bridges explores new dimensions on 'Good Thing'

Review: Leon Bridges explores new dimensions on 'Good Thing'
This cover image released by Columbia Records shows "Good Thing," a release by Leon Bridges. (Columbia Records via AP)

Leon Bridges, “Good Thing” (Columbia Records)

Leon Bridges explores new musical dimensions on “Good Thing,” updating the retro soul of his acclaimed debut with a fresher approach and more personal lyrics, all without eroding the smoothness of his sounds.

With its string section and impassioned vocals, ’70s-style opening ballad “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” allows for a smooth transition from “Coming Home,” his Grammy-nominated first album, which musically placed Bridges somewhere in the mid ’60s. “Bad Bad News,” the first single, gracefully picks up the pace and comes rhythmically even closer to the present. It offers a booster shoot to his confidence — “I made a good, good thing/Out of bad, bad news” — as well as the source of the album title.

“Beyond,” a touching, refreshingly innocent confession to Mom about the absolute joy of finding your soul mate, has a Macy Gray vibe, while guitars spread across the stereo channels provide “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)” its uptown/downtown funky grooves. At under 3 minutes and highlighted by falsetto oohs and ahhs, “You Don’t Know” sounds ripe for summer success.

Bridges displays his strongest passion and fire on the album’s closing tracks, not to be missed. There’s no subtlety in the bluesy “Mrs.,” which struggles to reconcile the emotional and physical aspects of a relationship, while the autobiographical “Georgia to Texas” is singer-songwriter jazz, with countermelodies and an illuminated saxophone solo by Jeff Dazey.

Bridges’ voice remains his biggest strength but “Good Things” is proof positive that the rest of his artistry is fast catching up.